WASHINGTON – White House officials are distancing themselves from a campaign Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has mounted to defend the president from impeachment, after tensions flared again this weekend between Bannon and Jared Kushner.
Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, who are both senior advisers to the president, were angered by revelations about Bannon’s interactions with special counsel Robert Mueller that emerged on Saturday, three people familiar with the matter said.
Buzzfeed News obtained previously undisclosed records from Mueller’s investigation including an email Bannon wrote in July 2017 alleging that Kushner and Ivanka Trump vacationed with a Russian billionaire during the president’s election campaign. A person familiar with the matter denied that they were accompanied by any Russians.
At the time, Bannon still worked in the White House. He would depart a month later, after Trump appointed John Kelly as his second chief of staff.
Kushner and his wife have told associates that they regard the email as evidence that the Breitbart chairman sought to undermine them and the president, the people familiar with the matter said. Bannon sent the email to an unidentified person with a Breitbart address.
In addition, an investigator’s summary of a February 2018 interview with the special counsel’s office — also reported by Buzzfeed — said that Bannon told Mueller’s team that Kushner had been on vacation with an unnamed wealthy Russian when he took over leadership of the Trump campaign in August 2016.
Bannon wrote in the July 2017 email that Kushner “was on ‘vacation’ off the coast of Croatia with a Russian billionaire when I took over the campaign.”
The dispute has implications for Trump’s impeachment defense. Bannon has mounted an independent effort to combat the president’s likely impeachment by the House of Representatives. He is recording a daily podcast, “War Room: Impeachment,” that dissects developments in the case with Jason Miller, a former communications aide to Trump, and Raheem Kassam, a former adviser to the U.K. Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage.
The podcast has attracted a considerable audience among Trump supporters and has featured some of the president’s associates as guests, including an appearance last week by former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Bannon’s podcast is viewed in the West Wing as unnecessary and unwelcome, two aides said. The White House’s impeachment strategy focuses on keeping congressional Republicans aligned against the inquiry and especially against Trump’s removal from office, and White House officials believe the debate is trending in the president’s direction.
All House Republicans voted against a resolution that majority Democrats adopted last week outlining procedures for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry, which centers on Trump’s efforts to force Ukraine’s government to undertake investigations of his political rivals.
“WAR ROOM: Impeachment is the only radio show, podcast, website and news service solely dedicated to exposing the Democratic drive to destroy President Trump and his presidency,” a Bannon spokeswoman, Alexandra Preate, said in an email to Bloomberg News. “We are going to keep supporting President Trump seven days a week / 24 hours a day until he is acquitted.”
Bannon didn’t respond to requests for comment. His lawyer, William Burck, said in a statement: “Steve Bannon was one of several witnesses for investigators who, based on their careful review of witness testimony and other evidence, did not find a conspiracy or coordination between the President or his campaign and the Russians. To assert anything else is false.”
Buzzfeed obtained the email and the information about Bannon’s interview with Mueller’s team after successfully suing the Department of Justice for unreleased records the special counsel’s office produced during its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. The department began on Friday to release the documents to BuzzFeed and CNN, which also sued for the records. Additional installments are to be released every month for at least eight years, BuzzFeed reported.